This is the second episode of Virtualgoodsdealer Interview Series, where we will be having conversations with artists, scholars, and internet personalities on their work and experiences. In this episode, we spoke to Miles Grimmer, an artist, a podcaster, and a poet known for his Instagram meme page @premiles. We discuss the uncanny performance of vulnerability used throughout his posts and debated with him over the evolving definition of cringe.
ada.wrong: Welcome to the Virtualgoodsdealer Interview Series hosted at pages.virtualgoodsdealer.com. This is ada.wrong, producer and editor of this episode. Today’s interview is hosted by Omnia and Cindie, who some of you may know as saqmemes and males_are_cancelled. Our guest today is an artist, a podcaster, and a poet based in Bloomington, Indiana. He’s best known for his Instagram meme page @premiles, where he gracefully and accurately pokes fun at language, normativity, and pop culture. We spoke with Miles about the uncanny performance of vulnerability used throughout his posts and debated with him over the evolving definition of cringe.
Miles: Thank you. Glad to be here in the booth.
Omnia: Really happy to have you. So I guess yeah, it’s nearly impossible to describe the work that you do. So I guess the best way to explain it is to show it. So I’m gonna send what to me was the “most premiles” post.
Omnia: Okay, actually, before we get into specifics, is it safe to say that you might be the master of memes?
Miles: Um, I wouldn’t describe myself as such. I don’t even think memes can be mastered. Yeah, I feel like I’m pretty low on the totem pole. And that said, I’m not sure any one person can really be on the hierarchy per say. So, to answer your question, I don’t know if it’s safe to say that I’m the master of memes.
Omnia: Yes, that was a really good answer. You answered better than Elon Musk. So that’s good.
Cindie: I mean, you’re higher on the totem pole.
Miles: Than Elon?
Miles: Yeah, he’s pretty bad at memes. If you can be good or bad at memes, I think he’s horrible at it.
Omnia: His answer was surprisingly humble. So yeah, somebody asked him this. Like, I think it was a fan or reporter. I hope it wasn’t a reporter. But yeah, maybe it was a fan. And they were just like, “So is it safe to say that you’re the master of memes?” and he was just like, “I mean, my tweets used to be pretty racy, so I guess that’s that. Also I have some pretty sick meme dealers.” So I think he handled it really well. As well as he can handle a question like that.
Miles: Good. Yeah. I’m glad he has some humility, I guess.
Cindie: All right, I’m looking at these [premiles] memes. Imma just read them out.
Omnia: Please do.
Cindie: Alright, number one. “Basketball. Is poetry.”
Omnia: Do you have a problem? Did someone upset you?
Omnia: I need an explanation for what inspired the second one. Because basically, who is this versus?
Miles: The second one in the middle? I see — It’s just an optical illusion and says, “Whoa,” right?
Omnia: Yeah, what’s your problem with that?
Miles: I don’t really know. I think I just thought it was trippy. I think I thought, um, I think I wanted to just share some optical illusions. I wanted to shake up the feed, activate some third eyes, I guess, and just get the conversation going. I do remember when I posted that, someone got really mad and said that I should be crediting whatever artist made those optical illusions.
Omnia: Okay. That’s not really my problem with it. I saw people got really angry at the basketball one.
Miles: Oh, the basketball one.
Omnia: I get why you targeted them. Sports people are kind of…
Cindie: Why were people mad about the basketball one? Like, what could you even be mad about?
Omnia: Okay, because I guess I see why they got mad. It’s because when you’re scrolling down the feed and you see a premiles post, no matter what the post is, it’s something that you should hate yourself if you don’t hate it.
Miles: Oh, Interesting. I feel like — I know what you mean.
Omnia: Like, I am interested in optical illusions. I have, like, three different folders and I started making my own ones. And I was like, “What? What did I do?”
Miles: Okay, so to that point, a lot of the stuff I post, I think, is — not all of it, but a lot of it is things that I genuinely like, but I might be embarrassed for whatever reason to genuinely like. Because I’m like, aware of the cultural perception or something. So to the next one, the Jabawockees, I think I used to love that show America’s Next Best Dance Crew or whatever.
Omnia: Me too!
Miles: I used to sit there, watch it, and it blew my mind. That said, there’s something, like, that feels a little bit corny about it all. Or maybe like, I feel like other people would think it’s corny.
Omnia: So it’s coming from you. Or like, it’s self deprecating.
Omnia: You can do it very safely, by the way. You should feel really safe to do that. Because nobody will know that this is something you actually like.
Miles: Right, yeah. I feel like a lot of my posts are me working through things I actually like, but yeah, through the lens of self deprecation, I guess. I definitely wouldn’t say I post things to get people mad at me. And especially not in the past few years. Maybe when I was a little younger. I liked to stir the pot. But so yeah, and to that end, I guess, like with my comments section, I don’t always know exactly what angle people are coming at me with because — I don’t know. They just try to match my tone or something. But yeah, maybe every once in a while, I am really upsetting people. I’m not sure.
Cindie: Personally, from my point of view, I’ve been following you for, like, years now. And I feel like, I think you have a really genuine tone. Like, I feel like seeing your posts is one of the things that made me feel more comfortable just sharing the things that I like. I remember, you have, like, posts about the kind of apples you like, for example. And I’m like, “That is so true. Like, no one’s talking about this.”
Omnia: See, and I don’t know. Maybe I’ve seen different posts from you. But the way I see it is, we’ve already said everything that needs to be said about apples. So…
Cindie: Then why are they still called Red Delicious apples when no one thinks they’re delicious?
Miles: Yeah, I really stand by that statement. Red Delicious apples are the worst. Yeah, that’s the stuff I like talking about, I guess. Just everyday stuff. I don’t know why. I mean, I think part of it is when you’re trying to post funny stuff, you want to find your corner, I guess. And I thought maybe just talking about apples or whatever could be my corner. And then maybe I think I’ve just kind of really settled in a corner for better or for worse. And you all have been posting on Instagram for a while, I’m sure you’ve seen how things — I feel like we’re kind of in the same wider circle of Instagram pages, and I never talk about this stuff usually, but anyway, I’m sure you guys know how things have changed over the years.
Omnia: Oh yeah.
Miles: And so for a while, like, I was inspired by some of the trends, I guess, but then I got tired of it and wanted to find my own lane. And yeah, I guess here I am.
Omnia: You know, you talked about — when you were describing where you’re coming from with the memes earlier — you talked about how there’s just something off about it. And you’re right. There’s just like a hint of the uncanny that is super consistent in all your work. And so when you say you found your corner, you absolutely did. And it’s so hard for people to pull off that uncanny consistently when you’re aware that that’s what they’re trying to do. Like, when it becomes like sentient. Then — I don’t know. It feels like I’m being sold something. But with you, with your work, I’ve never felt that way, and it’s like I accept it. I know I was giving you a hard time, but I’m a huge fan.
Miles: Thanks. Yeah, that’s a really good observation. I do try to hone in on like, language that we take for granted, or that seems really normal in society, and just try to reflect it. Because I think that a lot of the language that is used to communicate on the internet isn’t, like, organic or meaningful or natural. And I think putting a mirror to it makes it funny. At least it’s funny to me.
Omnia: It’s hilarious. And I’m glad you brought up the whole language thing because I want to talk about your comments section. It’s so amazing to see people say things exactly the way you would say it. So okay, I’m gonna I’m gonna pull up a couple of examples here.
Cindie: All right, imma read these comments out. So we got this picture, this image of — are these like famous people in the picture? I’m sorry, I’m not good with — I don’t recognize them.
Omnia: Yes. So, one of them is the Star Wars guy. And then I don’t know who the middle guy is. And then one of them is the guy from Air Force One.
Miles: Yeah, it’s the Star Wars guy. Well, they’re all Star Wars guys in a way. But it’s George Lucas on the right, Steven Spielberg in the middle, and Harrison Ford on the end.
Cindie: Alright, let me read these comments. So premiles said, “Let the comments fly.” 100 likes. “real men have class, not swag!” “Just dudes making flicks and having fun.” “The Big Three! Love ‘em or hate ‘em. sunglasses emoji, video emoji.”
Omnia: My favorite.
Cindie: “Would love to pick their brains, even if just for a few minutes.” “No one did it quite like these guys.” “These three bring da ruckus.” “Spielberg helped Lucas make Star Wars. Lucas helped with Indiana Jones. Their prize? The awesomeness that is Harrison Ford.” Wow.
Omnia: 15 likes too many for that one.
Miles: Yeah, it’s funny to see everything out of context, or in this new context. Like that puts it into perspective.
Omnia: Let me let me bring up another example. Because all of these, I like. All of these I feel like are premiles. But I’m going to bring up another example of ones that just kind of went a little bit too far.
Cindie: Wait, just for some context on these, is this kind of like a contest setup that you’re running for the comments, or are people just leaving these for fun? Are you offering them some sort of incentive?
Miles: There is no real incentive. It’s just people commenting, like you said, commenting for fun. I don’t know what motivates people to try to one-up each other, I guess, like this. But there’s something going on. Omnia, what do you think is too far about this Mazzy Star or these next comments?
Omnia: The left column I thought was too much. The right column was perfect.
Miles: Okay, yeah, I agree that sometimes people go a little — I think there’s a subtlety to a good comment. And I think some people like to go to where it’s random. But I mean, hey, you know, you gotta throw the spaghetti on the fridge and see what sticks.
Omnia: Yeah, I mean, the only reason why I even bring it up is because that corny element, it’s really easy to cross, to where it’s endearing, and then like, you know, the “a true indie, deep cut, only real musicheads will get this one,” like, I feel like they’re not really doing the the role playing correctly.
Miles: [laughs] Yeah, you know, I have to agree. And I think like, doing the music stuff is kind of playing with fire. Because a lot of the, like, early memes I was inspired by were the music ones, and I don’t know, I think that that genre kind of lost its luster for me, for whatever reason. So yeah, I think the music heads thing does kind of cross a line.
Cindie: Like, oh, yeah, people have a superiority complex about what music they listen to. We already know that.
Miles: Exactly. Yeah. I just thought, like, a lot of people like that song. And I thought just posting that song would honestly — like, I do post to see what comments people will say. That is kind of my, like, motivation most of the time.
Omnia: So you were making fun of the optical illusion people?
Miles: Well, no, not at that point. Because I feel like I posted that, like, a few years ago.
Omnia: I’m just kidding.
Miles: [laughs] You got me.
Cindie: I feel like the optical illusions post is so genuine to me. Because it’s like, I see that image and the first thing that I think is, “Whoa,” so I’m like, “This is just a very honest reflection of the human condition.”
Omnia: I disagree, because you have to think of who is posting it. And what else do they post?
Cindie: I think Miles is a very nice gentleman who will never have anything negative to say.
Omnia: It’s not necessarily negative, but we’re assigning the cringe on things that really have no reason to be assigned that label.
Cindie: That is so true.
Miles: Yeah, I think that’s fair. That’s totally fair. Yeah, I think maybe I was kind of low-key making fun of optical illusions.
Omnia: That’s all I wanted to hear.
Miles: [laughs] So, again, you got me, I’ll say it. But I really do think optical illusions are cool. I think — you know what? I think I was invoking a voice there. I was trying to do, like, a stoner thing. That’s another part of me, I guess, that I like to make fun of. But yeah, I think, I don’t know. It seems like the more I post, the more the character develops or the character changes. I don’t know. I mean, not to get too pretentious, but since I’m looking at a screen of things I said, I’ll talk about it, I guess. Yeah, I just think it’s kind of developed over time. And the comments section is developed over time. It’s not a comment contest. But I do invite participation from the quote unquote, community, because it amuses me and I think it amuses other people, too.
Cindie: I guess I feel like what you kind of do is, you kind of toe the line of what’s cringe. You’re right there, where you make the people who look at your page question, “Is this cringe or not?” And sometimes it’s about calling something cringe directly. And sometimes, it makes people think about how it could be cringe to criticize something that’s over-criticized. And I think that’s cool.
Miles: Yeah, for sure. I think people should back off some of the, like, targets that have been overly criticized. I don’t know if I’m trying to invoke self reflection or anything, but yeah, what is or isn’t cringe is an interesting thing to think about. And I kind of think the meaning of cringe has changed over time.
Omnia: It’s become, I think, less endearing over time.
Miles: What do you mean by that? Like, the content is less endearing? Or like, cringe things are less endearing?
Omnia: The way it’s presented on the timeline, basically. It’s like, okay. So sometimes sometimes people pretend to be quirky, you know?
Omnia: And that’s super easy to tell nowadays I feel like.
Miles: Yeah, especially because in the last year or so of COVID, social distancing if you’re able to social distance, or if you have to social distance. It feels like our entire lives have been lived online. And so, yeah, I think the discourse over what is or isn’t cringe or what is or isn’t good has changed so fast over the past year.
Omnia: It’s become cringe to call something cringe.
Miles: Yes, yes. Precisely. It seems like saying something is cringe is just a synonym for saying it sucks. For better or for worse.
Cindie: That’s so true. It’s like I’ll post a fire meme and someone will just comment cringe because they disagree.
Miles: Yeah, yeah. It’s like, that’s not what it meant before. You’re just being a hater.
Omnia: It’s just become another word for “bad.” True.
Miles Yeah. I feel like the original definition of like, I don’t know if it’s the original definition. But for a while, if someone posted, like, something overly sincere, people called it cringe. And it’s like, well, they’re just being themself, basically. That isn’t to say that it isn’t cringe to be yourself on the internet for some reason. I think when people say something is cringe, they’re like, actually kind of jealous. Like, oh, that person isn’t, like, isn’t burdened by all this doubt and anxiety about how they’re perceived and stuff.
Omnia: They’re miserable.
Miles: Yeah, yeah. I’m jealous of people who post cringe. That’s why I post irony cringe. Because like, I don’t know, I wish I could just not worry what other people think.
Omnia: Sometimes it’s because it makes you face your own fears too, like that question, “Are you the master of memes?” I can see myself, you know, meeting somebody famous that I care about. I could ask something even worse.
Miles: Yeah. [laughs] Yeah, it does make me confront my fears. And well, that’s good, right? To be put into a situation that makes you uncomfortable. That’s the only way you can grow.
Omnia: Yeah. I’m definitely pro-cringe, by the way. I’ve always been.
Miles: Good. I think I’ll say I’m pro-cringe too. Firmly. Finally, I’ve come around to cringe.
Cindie: I feel like everyone has at least one interest that’s, like, somewhat cringy. And that’s why everyone has to call each other cringe. Because they’re insecure about that, like, one kind of uncool interest they have.
Miles: Yeah, yeah, totally. All the cool interests that they have are, like, in danger of becoming cringe at any moment, for any reason.
Cindie: So true!
Omnia: Cringe is like — whatever is popular is cringe because you’re not a real person anymore. You’re just part of the sheep.
Miles: Exactly. Like it’s tough to get into something right at the moment where it’s relevant without being cringe.
Omnia: I don’t really get that whole thing, of the whole, like, “Oh, I knew the band before they were famous.” I guess I do feel that a little bit with Coldplay, but I mean, I’m happy for them. I’m glad that they became famous, and now they just make music to make money. That’s fine. I don’t see the problem.
Miles: Yeah, I mean, you know, I feel like maybe I’ve had that mentality for a long time. But there is something nice about feeling like you’re — everyone just wants to feel like they’re a part of some special club, I guess.
Miles: Getting older is just adjusting to changes, basically.
Omnia: I actually had one more question before we get to the last question. And it kind of vibes with this. We talked earlier about, you know, assigning things as cringe. So think of the word “scene” and the word “community.” What’s the difference between the two?
Miles: Oh, yeah. Wow, that’s a really interesting question.
Omnia: So one thing I realized is that they’re both cringe. Equally. But for completely opposite reasons.
Cindie: Wait, I’m gonna need you to explain why either of them are cringe.
Omnia: I don’t believe that they’re cringe. But when you hear people talking about “the scene,” how do you feel, you know? Or when people say that, I don’t know if we’ve talked about it, but I thought it was kind of unstated, how the meme community, we want to get away from that. So like, we’ve made the word “community” and the word “scene” undesirable, and I don’t know if that’s going to make it harder for us as a species to like, organize and communicate.
Miles: To jump in, I think even though the meme community is called a community, I don’t think that is a community. I would consider that a scene. I see community as something more emotionally and materially authentic, you know?
Omnia: For me personally, it has been. But I understand people’s experiences are different.
Miles: Oh, word. Yeah, that’s great. I mean, I guess I’ve been in a few scenes, and I’ve been in a few communities. And sometimes it overlaps. And sometimes it doesn’t.
Omnia: So a scene is just everybody’s more independent, and it’s not so… there’s no reciprocity?
Miles: Yeah, I think that would be a good way to characterize it. I think in a scene, there’s a little bit of competition. And I wouldn’t say that’s the same for an authentic community.
Omnia: That’s a really good point.
Cindie: Yeah like that Fall Out Boy song that’s like, “This ain’t a scene it’s a goddamn arms race,” that’s like my understanding of a scene is that it’s about getting to the top. And it’s like, in a scene, people pretend to be friends. Because temporarily, if we pretend to be friends, we can help each other get to the top. But as soon as it’s no longer desirable to work together, you’ll start seeing tension. Whereas like communities seem to be focused on, like, actually helping each other.
Miles: Yeah, that’s, yeah, that’s a great way to put it. And I never thought Fall Out Boy lyrics would be relevant in this stage in my life, but man, you got you nailed it there.
Cindie: Are you hating on Fall Out Boy?
Miles: Well, you know, just like anything else that I hate on, Fall Out Boy. And not to be like a first album guy, but like, that first album with the blue cover? Good. That’s awesome. I don’t know.
Cindie: I agree. Also, to go off the question about a scene versus a community, specifically to what we used to refer to as the meme community or the meme scene, a recent change that has happened in the past two years or so is the rise of repost pages. And now, I feel like a lot of the really popular pages now that everyone’s talking about are repost pages. And I mean, not to hate on them, because that’s also a very difficult thing to do and to grow as, but I do think that it requires kind of a lower level of creativity and, like, artistry to pull off well. Someone’s gonna hate on me for saying this. You don’t have to make the memes, bottom line is. But those pages, because they don’t actually have to make their own content, they’re able to get this unlimited flow of funny memes to post and they grow really fast. And I think that’s definitely kind of done a little bit of damage to the ability for, you know, OC creators, like all of us. I guess, what are your thoughts on that?
Miles: Big time. Yeah, that’s a really good observation, Cindie. You know, there’s a part of me that thinks it’s like a generational thing. And this probably isn’t true. But I feel like the way millennials are — this is just my observation, feel free to disagree — I feel like the way that millennials use the internet is very, like, identity focused, whereas the way Gen Z uses the internet is very, I know we just said the difference between community and scene, but it feels more like, you know, I guess it’s like, I would say Gen Z is like — to characterize it, it’s like, if you run like a K-pop stan account, then you know, you’re a part of like —
Cindie: That’s me.
Miles: That’s you?
Omnia: I didn’t know that.
Miles: Yeah, then it’s like you’re part of this bigger picture than yourself. To like, actually disagree with what I just said, a lot of the repost pages that I’m thinking of are probably people my own age and stuff. But, and to go back to an earlier point, I feel like there’s been a shift in the culture of crediting people on Instagram. I feel like somehow now it’s like, looked down on to, like, ask for credit and stuff. Whereas a few years ago, it was pretty much a courtesy to make sure everything’s credited properly. I kind of like being just a part of the, I don’t know. I kind of like the idea of just making something and then it becomes something bigger than myself, I guess. But it can really get away from you too.
Cindie: I feel that. Like, recently, I had the first time this happened. I used the “Create” option on the Instagram story and just wrote my thoughts down. It was something extremely stupid. But people reposted it as a screenshot of just the text. And it was no credit or anything. But that made me feel like, oh, they thought this was funny.
Omnia: Oh, it’s definitely nice to see your stuff being reposted for sure. That’s why I mean, I didn’t care before. I felt like it was my privilege to have my work, you know, shared. But now it’s like, if you’re a big repost page, you should at the very, very least tag the person whose image you’re using.
Miles: Right? I think probably some of them get so many submissions that like, as a page, it’s probably hard to manage the credit. But, you know, people, give credit where it’s due for sure.
Omnia: And I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever cared if it’s like smaller pages. But if it’s like, a page that gets a lot of engagement in the first 30 minutes of a post, I get in my feelings.
Cindie: Sonny side up?
Miles: Yeah, yeah, big time. Spread out that Bloomberg money.
Omnia: Oh, that’s that’s a whole thing for another day.
Miles: Yeah, I definitely agree that the dynamics of who’s posting your stuff is important to consider. Because I don’t want to send people to harass some teenager who has, like, 300 followers or something like that.
Cindie: Should we take a look at the image [Omnia] just sent?
Omnia: Yeah, so that’s how I wanted to kind of close today’s interview, is to talk about your submission page. These are my three favorite images that people submitted to you.
Miles: I like that tree one. I totally forgot about that one.
Omnia: To be honest, it’s better than anything you’ve ever made, I’m sorry. I’m kidding.
Miles: No, I totally agree. I wish I came up with that.
Omnia: So simple and brilliant. I just love it.
Cindie: It’s kind of similar to the optical illusions post.
Omnia: True! But I don’t have a special thing for trees.
Miles: I mean, if I saw that tree, I would say wow.
Miles: It sums it all up. Yeah, I don’t know when I thought I would start a submission page. This sounds weird to admit, but I think I just wasn’t feeling very inspired and I knew that I had so many people in the comments who were kind of matching my tone, and I just thought that my followers would have some funny stuff to post. So I just said, “Hey, premiles contest post, make a post that seems like a premiles post,” and then I got so many submissions that I decided I would just start a side page. I guess I update it every once in a while.
Omnia: What’s it called?
Miles: It’s called @postpremiles. It’s like posting pre miles, but also “after” pre miles. Because it’s more than just me, I guess.
Omnia: Ohhh, post and pre. Okay.
Miles: [laughs] People post some really good ones. Although I didn’t expect to put myself in the position of being like a gatekeeper, I guess, but I do kind of gatekeep. Sometimes people post ones that just don’t really hit right, so I don’t accept those.
Omnia: It’s import to be gatekeepers in something like this. I mean, this is something that you created. So I think that if you feel it, that means it’s good.
Cindie: I don’t think that’s gatekeeping, it’s just curation.
Omnia: Some people are really good at it. That’s why even with the repost pages, some of them actually deserve to have a large following.
Miles: That’s a better spin on it to address it as curation. And yeah, I think there are really good repost pages. I mean, there’s also like, just repost pages where it’s like, okay, you can tell this person is trying to get in on the fad. But I don’t know, it’s whatever. It’s all for fun in the end.
Cindie: I think this kind of ties back to what you said at the very beginning about finding your own niche with memes, because it’s definitely true that there are trends and fads and everything eventually becomes cringe, but when you find your own niche in your own style, where it feels like a authentic extension of yourself, then I think all of those things don’t matter anymore, because you’re creating value that exists outside of, like social trends. And I think that’s why people love leaving these comments so much on your page where they pretend to talk like you. And they like making these memes in your style as well. Because the very essence of like, doing this thing where you try to speak in a way that’s very straightforward, very authentic and kind of different from how people normally talk on the internet, it’s therapeutic for other people to do too. It’s like you’ve developed this system that feels good for people. I think that’s really cool.
Omnia: I agree, Cindie, and that’s, I mean, I guess that’s that’s how you’ve stayed consistent like that. So just be you. Stay you.
Miles: Thanks. That was, yeah. I really appreciate those comments. That was really nice to hear.
Omnia: Of course. This was a really fun talk.
Cindie: Miles, do you have anything else that you’re working on that you’d like to promote? Or plug?
Miles: Sure, sure. Thanks. Yeah. So I will plug my podcast. I do a podcast with my friend Alex. It’s called “It’s a Beautiful Day In The Gulch.” It’s just a chit chat show, where we just kind of shoot the shit. But you can check that out on wherever podcasts are heard.
Omnia: Are y’all still doing the Patreon?
Miles: Yeah, we do have a Patreon for the podcast. So if you really just can’t get enough, you can check out the patreon at patreon.com/gulchpod. But yeah, we post two free episodes every month and two on Patreon.
Cindie: Thank you so much. This was great.
Miles: Thanks for having me on.
ada.wrong: We loved speaking with Miles and we thank him for being so open with us about his work and his process. The posts we talked about in this episode can be found on his Instagram page @premiles. His podcast, “It’s a Beautiful Day In The Gulch” with Miles and Alex is also available wherever you get your podcasts. This was Episode Two of the Virtualgoodsdealer Interview Series. Thanks for tuning in.